If you’re not watching the ongoing Arkansas Senate race between incumbent Senator Mark Pryor (D) and his challenger Representative Tom Cotton (R), you should be. If Cotton wins, it will be the capstone on an extraordinary shift happening in Arkansas: without any major demographic changes, the state has flipped from solidly Democratic to predominantly Republican in the years since Bill Clinton’s terms as Governor. Here’s the Economist, contextualizing the uphill battle Pryor will have to keep his seat against Cotton:
In 2012 both the state House and state Senate went Republican, the first time Republicans have held a majority in either place since the post-Civil War Reconstruction. The state also sent its first all-Republican House delegation since the 1870s to Washington. One reason for this change is the near extinction of an endangered group of voters. In 2008 15% of Arkansans described themselves as conservative Democrats, according to Gallup. Now just 9% do. Barack Obama’s two big accomplishments in office, the passing of the stimulus in 2009 and the Affordable Care Act the next year, “put a brick on the accelerator” of a shift in partisan affiliation that was already under way, says one of Mr Cotton’s team.
The Economist isn’t the only publication to have noticed the race’s historic importance. The NYT tackles the issue from another angle: the fall of pragmatic, centrist politicians who run on personal charm and the rise, on both sides, of more ideological candidates especially reliant on out-of-state money. The story focus especially on the outgoing Democratic governor Mike Beebe, whose personal centrist brand will likely leave with him. Read both pieces. If Cotton wins and Republican Asa Hutchinson succeeds Beebe (as he looks set to do), Arkansas will be almost entirely in the hands of Republican politicians—and thus will prove to be a testing ground for Republican ideas.